Author: Kristen Simmons
Genre: Dystopian, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: January 2012
Hardcover: 384 pages
New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.
The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.
There are no more police — instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior— instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don’t come back.
Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It’s hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.
Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.
That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel (I hope)
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I’m a sucker for YA dysotpians, what can I say? Even though I’ve been burned by many a YA dystopian, it remains a subgenre near and dear to my heart. Furthermore, I loved the sound of this book.
It’s the near future, and after a devastating, frightening war on American soil, civil liberties have been eliminated. The Bill of Rights is a thing of the past, and the nation is in a constantly militarized state. The Moral Statutes have been instituted and are absolute – nothing lavish or lascivious is allowed. Practicing religions outside of Christianity are punishable offenses. Romance novels are outlawed. Unchaste women are hauled away, never to be seen again.
Seventeen year old Ember comes home after school one day and finds soldiers from the Federal Bureau of Reformation on her doorstep, and this time they have come not just to slap her mother with a citation, but to take her away. Ember’s single mother is found of violating Article 5 – having a child out of wedlock – and she and Ember must be quarantined and rehabilitated.
Stripped from her mother, her home, and friends, Ember is taken away to the equivalent of a prison camp, full of other girls just like her – illegitimate children and juvenile “article offenders” alike. Under the sadistic watch of a twisted headmistress who has the muscle of the Moral Militia eager to beat and kill the girls should they step out of line, Ember knows she must escape and find her mother. But when her ex-boyfriend, and Moral Militia soldier, Chase comes to rescue Ember under the guise of taking her to her mother’s trial, Ember’s desperate plans to escape come to a frantic tipping point. Can she trust Chase, or is the boy she loved dead and gone?
Article 5 is an incredibly frustrating book. One the one hand, I loved the premise of the novel and the dystopian mindset. The background of Ember’s world is brilliant and chilling, reminiscent of Margaret Atwood in terms of the status of women in this new society. This is the best aspect of the novel, as Article 5 is a terrifying glimpse at an entirely possible future America, ravaged by war and turning to religious zeal and militant patriotism, with a focus on the kind of aggressive, fear-inspiring dialogue that rings scarily close to home. There isn’t much known about the actual war that has caused the implementation of the Moral Statutes and the cancellation of basic human rights and civil liberties, but I didn’t mind that lack of knowledge. The vision of this future dystopian America is so frightening because it feels like a truthful, natural extrapolation of some of the ugliest current aspects of society. Make no mistake – Article 5 is absolutely a true dystopia, and I respect that Kristen Simmons has the chops to go there in this YA novel.
These praises for the worldbuilding and dystopian setting said, I found that the actual execution of the novel incredibly frustrating and hindered my enjoyment of the book. My problems with the novel are twofold:
First, there’s the irritating characterization of protagonist Ember. Ours is a heroine that is *officially* Too Stupid To Live. At two points in the story, Ember (idiotically) runs away from Chase – the boy that has risked his life, his reputation, his career solely to save her. Ember knows that Chase is trying to help her, but out of some weird, undefined, misguided teenage angst, she runs away from the one person in the world that is out to keep her alive and nearly gets herself killed. TWICE. The motivations for her initial mistrust of Chase make sense, but what doesn’t add up is the continued distrust, the fact the the two characters never TALK about their emotions, making the romance between them feel artificial and tediously protracted as a plot device.
Not to mention, the relationship between Chase and Ember is of the dreaded “we’ve always been in love” variety (which, apparently, can be even worse than the instalove trope).
From a storytelling perspective, the “twist” to the novel (concerning Ember’s mother’s fate) was obvious and the fact that Ember never once asked or pressed Chase about the fate of her mother, accepting his initial explanation at face value, reeks of artifice and half-baked character motivation. Additionally, the writing was poor and used lots of bizarre imagery with her organs shivering and jumping around (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up).
Ultimately, there were things I liked about the book – notably the critique of sexism, religious zeal, and aggressive militarism – but these high points were dwarfed by the massive missteps in terms of plot and characterization. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed this book much at all, though I did finish it.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Beth and Ryan were holding hands. It was enough to risk a formal citation for indecency, and they knew better, but I didn’t say anything. Curfew rounds wouldn’t begin for another two hours, and freedom was stolen in moments like these.
“Slow down, Ember,” Ryan called.
Instead I walked faster, pulling away from our pack.
“Leave her alone,” I heard Beth whisper. My face heated as I realized how I must look: not like a conscientious friend who was minding her own business, but like a bitter third wheel who couldn’t stand seeing other couples happy. Which wasn’t true—mostly.
Sheepishly, I fell into step beside Beth.
My best friend was tall for a girl, with an explosion of dark freckles centered at her nose and a cap of squiggly red hair that was untamable on chilly days like this one. She traded Ryan’s arm for mine—which, if I was honest, did make me feel a little safer—and without a word, we danced on our tiptoes around the massive cracks in the sidewalk, just like we’d done since the fourth grade.
When the concrete path succumbed to gravel, I raised the front of my too-long khaki skirt so the hem didn’t drag in the dust. I hated this skirt. The matching button-up top was so boxy and stiff that it made even busty Beth look flat as an ironing board. School uniforms were part of President Scarboro’s new Moral Statute—one of many that had taken effect after the War—mandating that appearances comply with gender roles. I didn’t know what gender they’d been aiming for with this outfit. Clearly it wasn’t female.
We stopped at the gas station on the corner out of habit. Though it was the only one in the county still open, the lot was empty. Not many people could afford cars anymore.
We never went inside. There would be snacks and candy bars on the racks, all priced ten times higher than they’d been last year, and we didn’t have any money. We stayed where we were welcome—on the outside. Three feet removed from the hundreds of tiny faces imprisoned behind the tinted glass. The board read:
MISSING! IF SIGHTED, CONTACT THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF REFORMATION IMMEDIATELY!
Silently, we scanned the photographs of the foster-care runaways and escaped criminals for anyone we might know, checking for one picture in particular. Katelyn Meadows. A girl with auburn hair and a perky smile, who’d been in my junior history class last year. Mrs. Matthews had just told her she’d gotten the highest grade in the class on her midterm
when the soldiers had arrived to take her to trial. “Article 1 violation,” they’d said. Noncompliance with the national religion. It wasn’t as if she’d been caught worshipping the devil; she’d missed school for Passover, and it had gone on to the school board as an unauthorized absence.
That was the last time anyone had seen her.
You can read the full chapter excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 5 – Meh
Reading Next: Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
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